2020 has thrown a major curveball into churches ability to grow. most are just trying just to survive. We have been pared down to the basics: worship streamed on-line through Facebook live, some church meetings through Zoom and maybe providing a method for on-line giving.
According to a Faithlife survey held in Fall 2020, only 35-40% of churches are growing in today’s environment. The rest are holding their own or declining in attendance. The growing churches embraced digital tools to create community and worship together. The others cut back to the essentials, waiting for this pandemic to be over. The best used the time to not only succeed now, but prepare for the day we can worship together again.
The Focus Created by Crisis
Just today, the Pastor of the church we attend here in Massachusetts, highlighted that the rough times can help us focus on what we need to do rather than the good. He quoted C.S. Lewis, from his book, “The Problem of Pain” in stating:
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
All of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 has stripped away the illusions and the lies we have told ourselves in our comfort. In our personal lives, it may have been around our health, our relationships or even our beliefs of society. Yet, after the strain of living in quarantine for months on end, we faced depression, weight gain, fraying relationships with family members and so on. We saw government ineptitude, lies from our elected officials and even a riot in the Capitol. Conspiracies and counter-conspiracies abound with people pointing the finger at one another that it is their fault.
We find ourselves a few days before the Inauguration wondering what is next for our Republic. It is my belief that we need to strip back all of the rhetoric and get back to the core of who we are as a nation and then build back into a nation we can all be proud of, with “liberty and justice for all.”
We need to build good habits as a country. Telling the truth. Listening to one another. We also need to cut actions that do not serve us.
Reexamining Our Habits
I learned personally about cutting things out of my life that did not serve me,. Throughout my life, i struggled with my weight. Every year, it seemed to creep up and I felt powerless to stop it. I just resigned myself that I would be fat.
The pandemic hit the U.S. right as we got back from a trip to Rwanda and the Congo.While on the trip, we hiked through the highland jungles in the Congo to see silverback gorillas. While it was an amazing experience, it kicked my butt hiking up and down the mountains for 4 hours. I was exhausted and a little disappointed in myself. I started to look at my health in the big picture and I was not happy with where I was at.
It was a little bit of a wake up call for me to say “enough.” Basically, I had enough pain in my life to be willing to make changes. It involved taking a step back and evaluate my diet, my activity level, my sleep, my stress and my habits. The “lockdown” created the room in our lives to slow down and take stock on what was working and what was not.
It started with changing little things that added up. Kim is a spectacular cook and starting using cooking spray instead of olive oil to cook. Eating fresh fruit with meals. Going for a short walk during lunch (even if it was only 20 minutes). Choosing fish instead of beef when we went out.
Once we got those things out of the way, I needed to address some bigger issues. Avoiding bad for you foods that I love like pizza. Going to see a Doctor about sleep issues and getting them solved. Addressing my relationship with food and how it relates to my childhood.
All in all, I lost 45 pounds in 2020. The little changes started positive momentum for me and I lost the first 20 pounds. The next 25 were harder because I needed to make longer term changes in myself. It involved a lot of introspection, I still have a while to go, but I am happier and healthier for it.
It really involved taking a hard look in the mirror and asking if my habits and practices were moving me toward my goals or not. It required stripping away all of the excuses (like I have a slow metabolism) and facing facts. I have to make an active choice to be healthy and CHOOSE it every day or bad habits will slowly weigh me down (in this case, literally).
Church Health is a Choice
Churches are the same way. We meet with church leaders across the country and many are quick to blame the culture, the megachurch down the street or the Sunday soccer games on their decline. We may feel that there is nothing do about the slow decline of our congregation and that someday (maybe even soon), we may need to close our doors.
I am here to stay that it is nothing but an excuse, just like I had about my weight gain. The church survived for the past 2,000 years despite persecution, paganism, corruption and direct attack by competing ideologies. Yet today, the church flourishes in the places it is most under attach including China, Africa and Latin America. It is where we are fat and comfortable in the United States that we are lured away from Christ a little bit at a time.
We need to face facts. We can either help the church thrive or we can let it die. We can be willing to put away our preferences and reach out to our communities in a relevant way or we can stay comfortable in our holy huddle. We can be willing to sacrifice ourselves or Christ or slowly allow our congregation to fade into nothingness.
It all starts with a choice. In the words of “Red” in Shawshank Redemption, we can “get busy living or get busy dying.” It is our choice.
Choose good habits for your church.
Here is a brief outline of how to get started. Over the next few weeks, I am going to try to write a post on each action to help you move forward. I will come back and cross-link the posts, but this should give you something to get started.
With the church coming out of the pandemic, now is the perfect time to strip our programs to the core, assess what works and create new ways to reach people for Christ.
The question is not if we can do it, but do we have the courage to get started.